12 July 2006

Singapore buys Malaysia, Malaysia bombs Singapore

One may be outrageous and the other is widely seen as funny. But what if the tables are turned, and someone jokes about Singapore bombing Malaysia? How far would you qualify free speech? Full essay.


teck soon said...

I submit that free speech is not the problem here. From what Alex has pointed out, Malaysians are being fed misinformation by irresponsible people. Could it be, however, that strict government control over the press has made people cynical and untrusting of their mainstream press, in effect causing the irresponsibility online in the first place? Malaysia needs a free marketplace of news and ideas. Only in that type of environment can trust develop. Some newspapers/blogs will become trusted, and others will develop a reputation for spouting angry and erroneous tirades. Why is that a problem?

Why are some newspapers in the West more popular or trusted than others? No one would accuse "Le Monde" or "The Washington Post" of printing lies. Even a small misquote or mistake is immediately corrected and apologised for in these papers. When someone wants news, they go to the trusted names. This trust was earned in an open, competitive, free market. Honest newspapers outperform dishonest ones. When people want entertainment or less reliable/faster/more rambunctious news they go to blogs. In Malaysia and Singapore, readers have no trusted source. In that vacuum, they gossip online about conspiracies. How many of us would be here commenting on Alex's blog in the first place, if Singapore's mainstream newspapers were not such rubbish? Alex may be more prone to making a mistake than seasoned full-time reporters, but what other choice do we have? The blame for any mistake that bloggers like Alex may make lies squarely with the Singapore government. If not for their repression, he would not even have a blog in which he may, someday, at some point, be irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

Mahathir is not the issue here, Singapore will eventually be part of Malaysia, through a 'friendly merger' after the death of Lee Kuan Yew. It will be a win-win situation for the ruling elite.

Anonymous said...

Dear Yawning Bread,

Adhering to the tenets of free speech means taking some of the mess that comes with it. While Mahathir may have made some contentious or possibly unfair remarks, this does not mean that he should not be able to voice his opinions and win support for his cause.

This forces the government of the day to be more transparent. Yes, there is a cost to being transparent and having good governance and accountability. But there is also a (possibly greater) cost if you don't have transparency and accountability (c.f. the excesses of the Mahathir administration).

Singapore bashing is a long-standing hobby of Malaysian politicians. It existed in the less free-speech-oriented Mahathir administration, and it exists under the new Abdullah administration. It is irrelevent to the discussion on free speech.

There will always be limits to speech, so the debate is really about the degree and where the lines are drawn. In Singapore, the lines are drawn in such a fashion that it is difficult to raise productive (if sometimes contrary) thinking, or to raise matters of concern to Singaporeans in order to mobilise people to action. This is especially so if the matter challenges the accepted wisdom of the few "elite" thinkers in government.

My 2c.

Independent Analyst